Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Three quarters of schools closed and I ain't even mad

So today, along with 76% of England's schools, my teachers were off waving placards so I had no school. Admittedly I got absolutely loads done, it was great to catch up on some extra work, but I would have got through a bit more if I was at school. I do however, totally support them and protesting is the best way to show you disagree and demand change; to the point that I even let a teachers who got very snappy about me missing their lesson for a student fees protest explain to me their injustice and why they must protest.

I could never knock the work that teachers do. Children are horrible half the time and I still remember how moody and disruptive some of my classes were at secondary school (I still can't decide whether year nines or tens are more of a nightmare to control) yet, the majority of my teachers handled such situations brilliantly. I can see the life of a teacher being different in a school where Mummy and Daddy fork out thousands a term for their child to be educated in the best way money can buy, but in your average comprehensive resources are spread around people who want to do the very best they can, and people who really couldn't care less. My school wasn't the worst, far from it; my school taught and continues to teach me lessons both which can get me the grades I need to (fingers crossed) get into a good uni as well as how to be a decent person. I guess school's like anything else really, you only get what you take from it, and call me a nerd, a beaner (never quite understood that) or a geek, you really wouldn't be the first, but I've taken a lot from my time in education.

It's from striving to be top of the class at school that I learnt how the best things come to those who put in the extra hours, who struggle and really try to get to the top. Over the past thirteen years I've come across some of the most inspirational men and women: from Mrs Head who stressed the importance of hanging up your coat in the right place, Miss Cook who encouraged me to learn the recorder (don't think my parents will ever be able to forgive her for that) to later on, where Mr Hall encouraged me to get into politics and Mr Stead helping to develop my interest in philosophy.

So really, if my teachers think the government are letting them down and I have to have a day off every now and then for them to argue it out, well then so be it, they deserve the very best of retirements!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Haters gon' hate, but this is just ridiculous.

So, the British Embassy in Tehran was stormed today by Iranian students leading Anglo-Iranian relations reaching an all-time low. There were around 1,000 people gathered on the streets in front of it, waving photos of assassinated scientists, now I'd like to make myself clear: this isn't some detailed evaluation of diplomatic relations, nor is it some sort of historical analysis of their tense historical relationship. Instead, this is me being a bit freaked out by the hating directed at us at a nation.

Following the national outcry at Emma West's racist rantings in 'My Tram Experience' which has since led to her arrest, I think right now, Britain is showing it's best side. Now, I'm not going to go all 'England is the greatest country in the world' on you, that would be ridiculous. As a nation we have done many silly, stupid or downright bad things in our time, but really, who hasn't? And when for that matter did it justify burning our flag? Or burning the U.S. and Israeli flags too? I'm English and the U.S.A and Israel have done plenty of things to make me angry, but I do something constructive; I go visit Amnesty International's website and I sent letters to the appropriate people, along with thousands of others and you know what? We often get things done. Burning a flag however, symbolism aside, does nothing. It makes people cross, so what? It's going to change nothing, it will resolve nothing, they may as well have done nothing. 

But what really unnerved me was their chanting. I mean, 'death to England', really? So, I have two options here, I can take it literally: they want everyone in England to die. Including me, who's never done anything to offend Iran, neither have my friends, oh and all the children too, the ones who have done absolutely nothing. Yeah, that's really rational, makes loads of sense. Alternatively I can take it symbolically: so everything England stands for should go. So, no more queuing, no more freedom of speech, no more using a good cup of tea as a reasonable way of solving problems, no more attempts to make the world a better place, no more Royal family, one less safe haven for those around the world seeking asylum and no more fish and chips. They really should have thought this through a bit more and been a bit more specific about what they dislike, as now they just look a bit stupid. Also, stop these weird, overly large death threats, not only is it disconcerting, but it's also rather like an other the top, real life version of Formspring, and no one uses that anymore...

Monday, 28 November 2011

The most meaningful of holidays

Out of the 1.3 million visitors to Auschwitz-Birkenau each year, around 821, 000 are young people. Now that's a heck of a turnover! You'd be forgiven for thinking that it had turned into some sort of ginormous tourist attraction, and in a way it has; it's incredibly well preserved, the tour guides know their stuff and there are many  well thought out exhibitions. But it's a lot more than that, you can't walk very far without seeing some flowers, candles or Jewish memorial stones: it's a graveyard.

It's seriously difficult to really explain how I felt that day, I guess the best description of how it felt was haunted. As I walked round the site, they were many unnerving artifacts and the events themselves were, of course, utterly horrendous and it was nothing to do with cold that I was frequently finding myself shaking as I faced certain photos. I'm not going to tell you about everything there, as it would bore you all to tears, although I could easily write a post on each individual artifact or photo! But boring you would take from the harrowing effects of the place, what makes it strange is how certain parts have a massive effect on you and really personalize what happened.

It's hard to think that an event which resulted in the murder of over six million people could ever have a personal impact. Especially when you consider how this well before my time and I have no family connections to the events, yet when you're faced with rooms full of human hair and piles of glasses,  it's quite frankly over-whelming, it's hard to think of as real. Yet, when I was in a room full of suitcases I saw one which belonged to a one year little old girl with what translates as 'little child' underneath her name, knowing that she had certainly died on arrival was surreal, and we wouldn't even know she ever existed if it wasn't for her little suitcase.

Without a doubt it was the knowledge of what happened to all those children that really got me. I work in the childrenswear department of a local shop and get incredibly over excited whenever we get a new delivery of tiny baby shoes. To me, their tiny size represent everything adorable about babies, so, as you can imagine, seeing  display cases containing tiny baby clothes was absolutely horrendous. Obviously I knew they had killed children, but they become a statistic, squashed together with their parents and everyone else who was slaughtered and that's hard to identify with on a personal level. But when you see tiny baby things, then walk around a gas chamber? Putting two and two together becomes somewhat traumatic.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was a death camp, it's a lot more spread out and most of it was blown up by panicked Nazis in a poor attempt at hiding what they'd done. A couple of buildings still remain however, including where they were registered and had to give up their clothes and identity. It also has a room showcasing an exhibition of family photos found in a suitcase where they had been stowed as oppose to destroyed, painstaking research had lead to many of them being identified and traced. Yet many were nameless, that was unnerving as the photos were your average family photo. Imagine picking a photo of you and your family, then everything else (including you) is completely destroyed, leaving just that one photo...

It's hard to explain something which has to be seen to be believed. It's easy to forget what happened. But seeing piles of prosthetic limbs has really highlighted the importance of remembering the victims of some of the most barbaric crimes in history. In the entrance to one of the blocks is a quote from George Snatayana which highlighted to me the importance of school trips to Auschwitz:
"Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it" 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Take your big society and leave. (please)

Some of you may be aware that I'm spending six weeks next summer in a country with the greatest name in the world (India, obviously...). As part of this I have spent near enough every Friday night in Hardenhuish School hall, which for the record is absolutely freezing at night, helping out with climbing sessions, as well as trying out the wall myself if I get a spare minute. On top of this I have spent that last six years helping out at local Rainbow units, read this as getting covered in glitter by girls aged five to seven. Now, I'm no Mother Theresa, but that's two nights a week of voluntary work, and the amount of young people I've had the privilege of meeting through GirlGuiding shows that I'm not the only person doing so. We're coming to the end of our centenary year, of a voluntary movement where helping in the community plays a big role and has been doing so since 1910, independent from politics.

So you know, when I see and hear about this 'big society' I can't help but wish the Tories could have been a bit more imaginative. I'm no expert in politics, but I can't help but agree with the General Secretary of UNISON (Dave Prentis) "The Government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative". I mean, I love being involved in Guiding, some of the greatest experiences I have had through it to be honest usually involved some degree of community service. It does make me feel like, dare I use the term, part of some sort of 'Big Society', even when I was seven and murdering Christmas carols in the old people's home in town with the rest of my pack I got the same feeling of satisfaction as when I was helping clear a lakeside in Germany. But I think if I was doing this because there was no one else, or because I had to? Then the magic would be lost. I wouldn't enjoy it half as much and I'd be so cross at Cameron for taking that away from me! 

Seriously, I do think everyone should consider voluntary work as something to throw into their lives, and I'm sure anyone who has will agree, it's worth far more emotionally than any amount of UCAS related Brownie points (excuse the pun!).  So everyone, do something unpaid, but do it for yourself, do it for the community, don't do it so that the country doesn't have to pay someone else to do it!

Monday, 21 November 2011

2.6 million unemployed. Anyone fancy a Fabergé egg?

The first time I ever heard of a Fabergé egg I was about eight. As a dedicated Blue Peter fan I was of course interested in the competition they hosted one year to design one, although back then I didn't quite appreciate their hefty price tag. I won't even go into the question of taste, although I would highly recommend you Google the bejeweled 'beauties' and see if they really are worth £10 million... As your average sixth former where my only income comes from spending eight hours a week in a local department store I consider most of New Look's party dresses a bit of a stretch and the eye-watering cost of most of Urban Outfitters could make me sulk for hours on end. Understandably then, Russian jewel encrusted eggs rarely feature on my wish list, let alone on e-mails to relatives asking (very nicely) what I want for Christmas. 

And why should it? I'm seventeen years old, I don't even like normal eggs. Plus, I would probably lose it... I'm not naive enough to think that their new shop, just off Bond Street in London, is in anyway catered for the likes of myself. But when you think about how recently the United Kingdom's unemployment rate reached 2.62 millions it does make you suspect that maybe there really are some people benefiting from the ordinary people's belts. Obviously, I'm not going to go leave school and live in a tent in the middle Bath (you can see my confusion about the Occupy protests here) but is it really unreasonable to be slightly sickened by a shop opening up where the cheapest thing is a pair of earrings for £4,200?

I don't want to seem hard done by, I mean, I know there are many, many people far worse off than me, I'm very lucky to have never had serious money problems (touch wood) and I'm in a position where higher education is both an option but also, I am probably able to live away from home whilst doing so. But I just hate how there are people ready to splash out on some sparkly clutter, maybe they should be left in the Bolshevik era where they belonged?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The world is a dangerous place to live in

 not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

It's sad to think that the post following Ziggy Shipman's story is looking at the violent threats from right-wing groups, in our very own England. It sickens me to think of them so close to my home, and horrified me when I looked a little more into them following their recent press coverage in regard to their threats against Unions.

The English Defence League is a far-right movement create in response to the absolutely tiny minority of extremists who burnt poppies during a homecoming parade in Luton. The title is a quote from Einstein, taken from their website. Ironically, a victim of adversity is used to open a page promoting hate. Whilst I absolutely in no way condone their actions (I have the utmost respect for the forces, their work and their sacrifice) what I dislike is how they have used this as a springboard to attack Islam in its entirety. Of course, they claim that they don't repeatedly in their mission statement, but continue reading it and there are some real 'gems' such as: religiously-inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population in Britain: including, but not limited to, the denigration and oppression of women, the molestation of young children, the committing of so-called honour killings, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and continued support for those responsible for terrorist atrocities. and  The time for tolerating intolerance has come to an end: it is time for the whole world to unite against a truly Global Jihad. Oh, and we mustn't overlook demand reform of their religion, in order to make it more relevant to the needs of the modern world and more respectful of other groups in society. 

Really though? I'm confidant most of the first point are things unfortunately found in all communities, irregardless of their religion. It's called the dark side of humanity and not only is it found in the absolute minority of the Islamic community, but also sadly in all religions. I wish it didn't, we all wish it didn't, but it does, and therefore absolutely can not be blamed on one group. Plus, when has there ever been support for 'Global Jihad'? I admit, I don't know enough about Islam, but I was taught that Jihad is an internal struggle of faith? Only in extreme circumstances and when severely provoked has it anything to do with violence, and even then the vast majority of Muslims disagree with such an idea. Plus, most religions are old. Islam is no different, surely if they're going to do this properly the ELD should be demanding the reform of Catholisicim, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism? It's ridiculous and irrational, fueled only by hate, not by 'protecting' anything.

And now they're splinter groups threatening the Unions? Well, it makes sense really. I mean, they've already exhausted the attack on a now deeply integrated aspect of our society, so they may as well move onto another. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has commented :"Trade unionists have fought long and hard for a fairer society, one with respect at its core. Ultra-right-wing groups care about nothing other than stoking hatred, which is why they have no place in our communities.".

And you know what? I totally agree with McCluskey, if these brutes really cared about ridding the world of injustice, they would be following in the footsteps of Amnesty International and join me in sending e-mails and signing petitions. They would promote tolerance on both sides and they would look at the mistakes made in the past by similar prejudices and drastically review their racism

Friday, 18 November 2011

Ziggy Shipper = Ultimate Hero

Ziggy Shipper was the most inspirational man I have ever met, and hearing him speak today was truly an honour. Holocaust survivors are increasingly becoming fewer and farther between, as time goes by their stories of hope and of courage go with them, and of course, millions of stories were never told. Today my history class was told, in no uncertain terms, how prejudice and racism can escalate, the destructive power of hate and the importance of never giving up. Throughout, Mr Shipper's reasons for talking to us were made clear; he explained to us how it was not a case of 'how can you remember it?' and more of a case of 'how can you forget?'.

His story began in a Polish city whose Jewish population before the war was on a par with the UK's in its entirety (around 260,000) and from a relatively prosperous, Orthodox Jewish family, where he was brought up by his grandparents. He was nine and a half years old and still in bed the last time he saw his father, before he escaped the country. It was presumed that fit, healthy men would be the first to suffer in the upcoming Nazi invasion and although he returned in 1941 he was never again heard of. However, his father was wrong. It was the helpless: the young, the elderly, the ill. They were the first to suffer. 

'The day they came to our city, everything changed' and with his ban from school and public transport the changes were massive. Imagine that, children banned from school and pushed out of moving trams, simply due to their religion? New decrees were passed every day, until eventually they had to move to the poorest area of town.  Despite 100,000 running away to try and find safety somewhere else, the area could only comfortably fit around 20,00, not the 150,000 expected to fit. So, it was in one room with no anemities that Mr Shipper and his grandparents watched as the ghetto became completely surrounded barbed wire, and it was when he was ten and a half that he got his first job in a metal factory; working shifts from seven in the morning until seven at night. In the ghetto he faced horrendous things: from stepping over dead bodies to get to work in the morning, to a food ration so measly it would have run out by Wednesday. His Grandfather died soon after entering the ghetto through starvation as he insisted on eating only orthodox friendly food, showing the further evil of the Nazis.

August 1944: the ghetto was liquidated following the closeness of the Russian troops and he was sent to be a worker in Germany. When he reached the platform he couldn't see a train, his Grandmother pointed to the cattle truck in front of them and it was on that he witnessed many deaths due to suffocation and starvation. It was upon his arrival at Auschwitz however that the suffering reached a whole new level and some of the most heartbreaking things were said. He described watching women told to leave their babies and watching them get shot if they didn't. Babies, getting shot. Such brutality was so extreme, so impossible to comprehend. I mean, he's in his eighties and still can't fully comprehend the horrendous acts that took place. 

Labelled as '84303' he lost even his name and volunteering to become a laborer in Germany was his only chance of survival, however slight. Here he defied the odds completely, through surviving Typhus without medication, food or water for seven days. Yet despite the cruelty, he told us the beautiful tale of his friends who turned down the prospect of freedom from Danish POWs during the night to stay with him and ensure that he survived too. He survived a ten mile death march due to their invaluable assistance, considering he was suffering from an often fatal disease at the time this is a truly magnificent feat. Finally, he was liberated by British troops on 3rd May 1945 and was treated in hospital for his illness for three months. After choosing to go to Palestine to start a new life with his friends he received a letter from London from what turned out to be his long estranged mother and after much deliberation he began a new life in London in December 1946.

What makes Ziggy incredible is how ordinary and easy going he is. He's without a doubt a total hero, but his ability to fully engage a group of seventeen year olds for nearly two hours seemed almost effortless. He also has regrets like everybody else, except his are heartbreaking. His grandmother sadly died the day her camp got liberated, and he explained how he wished he could have put his arm around her that day and thank her for bringing him up. And of course, he experienced first hand events which heartlessly slaughtered not just millions of Jews, but also 50 percent of the European gypsy population, a million Poles and 900 German priests. 

What inspired me the most about today was how he encouraged us not to hate. He told us what hatred can lead to in a way that no history book or amount of quotations could.  Someone who can watch his Grandfather starve to death as he refused to give up his Orthodox beliefs and still say that there are 'still good people in this world' is a total hero in my eyes. Someone who can be so humble as to say that it is not his place to forgive the Germans, as that is something for God and the dead to do was totally inspiring. He also said it was our responsibility to pass on what we heard and learnt today,. This is why this is so long, I apologise for that, but I really hope you have taken some inspiration from his story. All I can do is apologise because I know my words can not do his tale justice.

But, what I would like to pass on are two lessons that I took away today, and I truly hope that I can take these with me for the rest of my life. They came from someone who experienced the most extreme hate and hopelessness yet has still upheld them, thus I sincerely hope I can also apply these to my own life: 
"I beg of you, do not hate, it will ruin your life" and
"Whatever you do, never give up"

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stick and stones may break my bones

But words will never hurt me. Yeah right. Sorry to disappoint you, but this is not about something beautiful (Rihanna) it's about something horrible, really horrible. This week is anti-bullying week and according to a recent study by the National Children's bureau, 9 out of 10 eleven to sixteen year olds have either experienced it or witnessed it first hand. Bullying, as we're all fully aware, can have disastrous results, it's capable of: triggering eating disorders, self-harm, even suicide and teens are particularly vulnerable.

But we all know that bullying doesn't stop on your sixteenth birthday. I mean, earlier this week we all had a certain girl plastered all over our dashboard. What a way of showing the dark side of the internet! From the lewd comments courtesy of creeps to the downright vile comments left by literally thousands of cruel girls, I for one was left cringing. I mean, very few, if any of us are totally happy with our bodies, we all know how hard it can get comments criticizing our appearance out of our heads. And who here feels comfortable in beachwear? If you do, you're in the minority, and I bet you none of those girls who called her fat were happy in theirs.

Whilst we're at it, raise your hand if you remember Formspring? Now, keep it up if you got hate. Thought as much. It's funny what the promise of anonymity can do to otherwise rational people: death threats, weight jibes, threats, they're just a few examples. Most of this doesn't come from 11-16 year olds, it's coming from 17/18 year olds too. At the moment we're all making academic decisions that will effect our whole lives, we're worrying enough about results to have to worry about signing in to social network sites. It's completely unacceptable, name calling was pathetic enough when we were in the playground. Keep it out the common room.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Occupy Wall Street? They barely occupy our minds...

Throughout the world anti-capitalists are making their objections known through the  'Occupy Movement', a leaderless occupation movement directed against the economic and social inequality all over the world. Their presence has sparked controversy wherever they pitch their tents, as their makeshift camps are pitched up across the globe, from Israel to Italy, to Malaysia and Colombia, as well as their presence across the United Kingdom and the USA. Globally, they have covered over 1,500 cities, as astonishing feat when it is considered that it is lead by people and has no one main leader.

Their aims are inspired [according to] "by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy". I can see why they're dissatisfied, why they feel the need to protest. The United Kingdom is a mess; we witnessed unprovoked riots earlier this year, 16-24 unemployment today hit 1,000,000 and statistically, we're one of the unhappiest countries in Europe. At a global level, the world wide economy is unsustainable, the minority possess the majority and the world population reached seven billion, something which we are currently unable to cater for. In short, something's got to give. In order to survive in the long run we need to make drastic changes and fast, yet the world leaders are reluctant to do so, it seems to make sense that we protest about it.

Admittedly, because it is still ongoing it is impossible at this point to determine the full extent of their impact. Although many say that it has prompted a shift in the American dialogue to the everyday problems, faced by ordinary its ordinary citizens.  In the United Kingdom? Not so much. They were controversial to begin with, no question, and they caused uproar in the Church of England. But have we really been talking about their aims?

 Personally, I consider these protests to be our generations equivalent to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Greenham Common even shows us that the idea of camping out to make a point on the perpetrator's doorstep isn't anything new and with Rufus Wainwright visiting Wall Street they even have gigs. They showed that you may not get results straight away, I mean, those ladies camped outside RAF Greenham Common for ten years. But there is a key difference: they had one aim. As I said before, I believe we need change, I believe we need to demand this from the rooftops. But, I also believe their arguments are too complex. It's confusing and complicated, if they focused on just one thing then maybe our attentions would be more fully focused and they would achieve more. At least CND kept it simple, they also had more powerful scare tactics on their side. But there is one other, vitally important thing to remember when thinking about these mass protests and comparing them to what happened before: we still have nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


As you're all aware, there was outrage throughout the country as tuition fees were raised, The Liberal Democrats backed out of their vow to only raise fees when 'hell freezes over' and there were national days of protest and marches throughout the country. With EMA being slashed as well students from all over have been joining forces against this privatization of education. Sadly, due to prior commitments I was unable to attend the march on Wednesday 9th November and so I interviewed Sheldon Sixth Form student Harry Thompson who assures that this contentious issue is by no means over yet!

How did you first get involved in the protests?
The former President of Sheldon Sixth Form organised a coach up to the first protest. For the second protest, somebody I know got funding for Abbeyfield, and suggested I do the same for Sheldon

So, what exactly was the point of the protests?
The aim of the protests was vaguely to hinder the government’s education reforms. The main issues being protested against were tuition fees and educational maintenance allowance. Many attending described this as the ‘privatisation’ of the education system. The argument for this is that universities now raise their own funds and are no longer reliant on the government in that respect. The service they provide is based on the quality of their lecturers and their reputation, both of which are provided by money. Therefore Universities are no longer reliant on the government, but act more as a private business. 

I can't remember if you went to the London ones about the fees last time, so if you did - What was it like in comparison with the protests beforehand?
I was at the London fees protests last time. The protests this time were on a far smaller scale (the Metropolitan police claimed only 2000 attended, but in a private report for met use only, they stated the number was more like 10,000) than last time, when 50,000 attended. A lot of this is due to the fact that the issue has died down a bit, but a lot of people travelling with us dropped out at the last minute due to the police threatening to use rubber bullets.

Do you think the threatened use of rubber bullets was in anyway justified?
I do think it’s justified if they prevent more harm than they cause. However, I’m completely against the way the introduction of them has been handled. It honestly sends an awful message when rioters escape any riot measures after days of rioting, but protesters are threatened before the thing even starts. In the end, none were used, but it certainly depressed the numbers attending due to worried parents, and I think that’s a real shame.

How did you manage to get the support of the trade unions and what exactly did this mean for you all as a result?
Well, Unison funded Abbeyfield students, and GMB funded us at Sheldon. We simply emailed them asking them for funding to attend the protests, and they both agreed (many trade unions backed the cause of the protests, as did the National Union of Students). It was extremely helpful to have transport costs covered, as train fees to London are extremely expensive (and yes, the Conservatives are putting them up again).

What was the atmosphere like?
The atmosphere was jovial, despite the seriousness of the cause, as many student protests are. It was almost entirely peaceful, and it was nice to see students from many different backgrounds coming together to protest.

What was the route of the march?
The route of the march was far less controversial to last time. Last time the march passed Parliament as MPs prepared to vote on the tuition fees rises (the protest could apparently be heard within Parliament) and ended fairly nearby Conservative Party HQ – and we all know how that ended. This time, the route started at the University of London Student Union, and continued across a few leafy suburbs. I’ll be honest, we stopped for a McDonald’s and lost the march for a while, so a short cut was taken!

Do you think the day's events made any real impact?
Well, yes. I don’t think there was every any chance of MPs looking at the 10,000 protesters and saying ‘right, let’s reverse tuition fees’ when they wouldn’t amid the media furore as they prepared to vote this time last year. But it does have a profound effect on politics if people don’t give up their cause. Politicians very rarely backtrack or admit they’re wrong in public, but they do see what hits their opinion poll ratings and what people take to the streets about. If there had been no student fees protests, it’s possible in that hard times in the future, more cuts could have been made to education. After all, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the hardest hit by these measures are the under 18’s unable to vote. Now that politicians have been made to see just how motivated and angry young people in this country can get, that won’t happen. It’s also no coincidence that political leaders are falling over themselves to get on the side of young people now in a way they weren’t beforehand – with Ed Miliband calling for the 9k fees to be scrapped or lowered, and David Cameron boasting of the apprenticeships scheme hisgovernment has brought in. For some reason, Nick Clegg isn’t talking much to young people at the moment.

Do you think the education cuts have helped encourage more young people to get involved in politics?
Yes, definitely. For me it was the tuition fees decision that made me get actively involved in politics and led to be eventually joining the Labour party. I attended the party’s conference this year and spoke to a lot of young members, and there were a lot of people in similar situations. In fact, the Conservative party has always had the largest party membership of any British political party. It was finally overtaken by Labour in 2010/2011 due to the amount of young people joining.

 Thank-you very much Harry!
You can follow him on Twitter here: Harry Thompson on Twitter 

Monday, 14 November 2011

No more bunga-bunga parties

Berlusconi's attempt to rejuvenate the politics of Italy unarguably made the  it become a mere farce. The tycoon-come-politician's arguably most notable achievements  included lowering his nations growth so that Italy only beat Haiti and Zimbabwe, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120 percent, a ratio beaten in Europe only by Greece, swaggering a lot, oh and recording a CD of love songs.

 He was elected three times, according to Gianna Riotta the former editor of Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy's leading buisness paper) this was with the aim "to change Italy and reform the economy". Instead, his voters got sex scandal after sex scandal and a former Miss Italy contestant as their Equal Opportunities minister. Besides fans of AC Milan Football club (he owns the club and collaborated with Tony Renis to write the club's anthem) he also appealed to the anti-Communist majority of Italy, an appeal he appears to be proud of when you consider that he was quoted as describing his country as "Italy is now a great country to invest we have fewer communists. Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries".

In fact, it could be argued that the only aspect of the billionaire's political career was his 'success' in objectifying and demeaning just over fifty percent of his population. His views were both inappropriate, he dealt with minors, for instance his attendance at the 18th birthday party of a wannabe lingerie model, but also just plain sexist, something all the more shocking when you consider how he was a figure with great power and influence.

Perhaps the only thing worse than his constant faux pas regarding gender, was the controversy constantly surrounding him regarding the law. He has faced many allegations of cheating taxes and bribery, some of which he is still staring at today, including his supposed offer of $600,000 dollars to David Mills so that he give a false testimony about his use of offshore companies for two corruption cases. When his immunity from prosecution was lifted in 2009 his explanations of what was happening to him was "I am without doubt the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world". Never a finer use of a hyperbole.

 Safe to say, I'm glad for the sake of Italy, women and the current dire state of European finance, that Mr Berlusconi has finally left!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

"British and German, fighting for our lives just the same"

Little thought is generally given to the Great War in our everyday lives; it seems strange that in our constant state of busyness we should stop and think about something where all who fought in it are now dead. Whilst Claude Choules only died in May of this year (he served in the Royal Navy) it has actually been three years since Harry Patch - the last survivor of those infamous trenches, died. So, now there are no living memories for the appalling conditions undergone by those who fought. It is perhaps even stranger, once it is considered that there were more than 70 million military personnel mobilized over of it's four year duration and instances such as the opening day of the Battle of the Somme proved to be the bloodiest in the history of the British armed forces even to this day (57, 470 casualties).

Yet, every year on the Sunday closest to Armistice day, as a nation we gather to commemorate their sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices since, including those who continue to sacrifice themselves for the sake of  our freedoms. King George V started this tradition as a response to the national trauma in 1919 as his country struggled to come to terms with its loss, as a way of unifying through grief as a generation of men was prematurely lost.

Despite the annual readings of the work of World War One poets such as McCrae and Brooke I have frequently found myself thinking of more recent wars: ones which have occurred within my lifetime and of which I have a more intimate connection with. Obviously, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with this, their work is incredible and their bravery is something I can not do true justice for by using mere words. However, should it be so easy to overlook the deaths of six million?

Unimaginable numbers of lives were tragically cut short through a war which even today the majority of people struggle to understand. I myself admit that I severely doubt that the ideological and political reasons for World War One justified any sort of war, let alone one on such a mass scale. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is the importance of not letting their numbers become a mere statistic. Something so horrendous can not become merely another date alongside long ago campaigns such as the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo. It is something that we can not allow to be just forgotten names on war memorials; it should forever remain a part of our national consciousness.

*The title quote was taken from the autobiography of Harry Patch - The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Only Surviving Veteran of the Trenches

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Have we forgotten autumn?

Whilst I can totally relate to the sentiments expressed by Wizzard in the Christmas chart-topper, I can't help but think maybe Christmas does actually lose its appeal if celebrated too far in advance?  With many Christmas decorations up in shops I honestly feel it has actually arrived far too early this year.

Now, I'm no Scrooge by any stretch of the imagination, I thoroughly enjoy both my mug of mulled wine and all the associated cheer but with 41 sleeps until Santa at the time of writing this, perhaps it's not really too extreme a reaction. Whilst I can understand the shops competitiveness being a key factor, if they don't sell it first then a rival will have already catered for your customer's Christmas presents and that's a pretty hefty loss. Plus, in such a horrible economic climate little else holds such a hopeful message like Christmas does, with the messages of peace, hope, love and miracles, it's alludes to a bygone time where things were so much more simple. Shops are making me think about how much closer it is, as if it is something which could be any day now and we must prepare for its attack, as oppose to something of a set date and still over a month away.

I feel as if we are forgetting that November is beautiful too, because nature-wise, unless there's snow, there's little beauty to be found in the stark coldness of December. Yet in mid November there is still an abundance of colour and whilst there are no more pears to b found in my back garden, the lawn and trees are still littered with apples and the weather is still just about nice enough to enjoy. In fact, until I experience my first frost and hear the grass crunch under my boots on the way to school, I won't even say it's late November, no matter how early it gets dark.

So whilst I can't put off Christmas completely until December (as much as I would like to...) I'll settle with the idea of it as something coming soon, something to remember from the depths of the back of my mind and to smile excitedly about. Not coming tomorrow as certain adverts would try and have me believe...

Friday, 11 November 2011

A resolution.

I am going to start posting more on this, like, every day or at least every two. I really enjoy writing on here and thinking about the world around me in a slightly less superficial way than normal. Plus, I hope that by regularly updating this I will be able to re-motivate myself, as this is what I want to do with my life, but first I have to get there, this means doing essays, revision and keeping focused. Lately my standards have been slipping, something I was determined to avoid, so now I'll be posting a lot more.